COACH Scott Coleman has no doubts the Hunter Wildfires are moving in the right direction after pushing perennial powerhouse Eastwood for almost an hour before succumbing 46-11 in their Shute Shield clash at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.
Playing their second game in Australia's premier club competition in 20 years and with just a five-week preparation, the Wildfires were on course for a boilover.
After opening the scoring with a penalty to Brendan Holliday, the home side held Eastwood out until the 38th minute when centre Enoka Mulifi slid through after sustained pressure in the Wildfires' red zone.
Down 13-6 at the break, the home side closed the gap to 13-11 four minutes into the second half with the try of the match.
Veteran lock Seva Rokobaro collected a 20-metre cut-out pass from halfback Mahe Fangupo on the half way line. The former Fijian international popped the ball on the inside for Connor Mulhearn. The replacement centre put winger Rob Buserau into space down the left touch line and he burst 30 metres before off-loading on the way to ground for hooker Chris Ale who had breakaway Shawn Ingle in support to crash over.
The spectacular try lifted the crowd of 1200 off their seats.
But just as the home side had grabbed momentum, Eastwood clicked up a gear.
The result was an avalanche - 33 unanswered points in 32 minutes.
"They just showed their class with their ruck speed and execution in the last 30 minutes," Coleman said.
Despite the similar scoreline, the Wildfires were better across the board from the 50-7 defeat to Randwick in the season opener.
Physically they aimed up. They put Eastwood under pressure with their line speed, competed hard at the breakdown, were strong at the scrum despite being out-sized, were more efficient at the lineout and opened up the visitors on the edges.
Rokobaro was outstanding. He and and No.8 Ben Ham did a job defensively on Eastwood man mountain Pat Sio.
Chad Northcott added a spark from fullback, including two chip and chases, Holliday was far more assured at fly-half, Hayden Cole was a rock at outside centre and the front-row of Dave Puchert, Chris Ale and Nick Dobson laid a platform up front.
"Last week we were out of the game after 10 minutes, we were too far behind," Coleman said. "Today we were a chance of winning it with 30 minutes to go. There was definite improvement. When I do the video review, I will definitely get a lot out of it."
In other Shute Shield matches, Eastern Suburbs were too good for West Harbour 36-10, Gordon thrashed Western Sydney 64-0, Sydney University pipped Manly 10-6, Norths accounted for Penrith 53-3 and Randwick upset Warringah 13-8.